Sunday, March 23, 2008

Long Post About Editing + New LC Submissions Call

Rather strange submission snafu this past week: got an email from Faultline editors, saying that a story I had sent them 'TOUR OF THE DROWNED NEIGHBORHOOD' (one of the shorter pieces from SCORCH ATLAS) was one of 5 stories out of 500 that'd been sent to them that were being considered for an upcoming issue. They asked for an electronic copy, which I sent. Then 2 days later, they said they wanted the story. They did, though, have some editing suggestions, which I always more than welcome. I've had some stories greatly improved by editors between acceptance and publication (most recently Todd Zuniga from Opium cut about 15% of a story they are publishing in Opium.print 6 or 7, 90% of which I totally agreed with and felt that the story was made 'better' by the edits). I do not feel 'overly protective' of my work. If someone with a clean eye and 'good taste' can see something in a work that I did not see, and the improvement genuinely makes the story 'clearer' then I am all about cutting and rearranging, as long as I have final say.

The edits to the Faultline story, however, were much more 'overhauling' than I expected. The story is about 1500 words, made up mostly of lines that describe the condition of a neighborhood pre and post underwater states. Most of the lines begin with 'This is', and then explain different parts of the neighborhood, however concretely or 'intuitively'.

The 'new version' of the story rearranged the order of the lines, taking the ones that seemed to most follow one another in a 'narrative' sense and lining them up so that the 'narration' followed a 'path'. It cut about 30% of the story, aiming at the lines that had less palpable narrative sense. Lines that just described parts of the neighborhood without referring to the inbound sense of narration that somewhat involves characters. It also cut what the editors considered a 'surreal' moment, in the midst of what they considered a 'strange but real' story.

The story is about a neighborhood underwater, I'll say again.

They did not want a 'surreal' moment in a story about a neighborhood underwater.

Anyhow, the story the way they had it was basically not at all what I'd written. It was chopped up bits from the original, reordered to try to form a 'narrative'. They'd cut all the lines that I liked most, the ones that just said things and didn't have 'meaning' that contributed to the 'arc' of a story that did not mean to have an 'arc'.

After thinking about it a lot I wrote them back and told them I didn't want to publish their version of the story because it did not feel like the story. They were very kind about it, and there was no ill will of any sort, the specific editor was very nice and polite and understanding and they said maybe we could work on it to come to a compromise but with the week as busy as its been with my house still gone and etc., I haven't even had time to think if I want to redraft the story. Which I don't.

All that said, I am confused about how that happened in the first place. If the story was, as they said, chosen out of 500, why would they want to take it and completely rearrange it? What was it about that original that made them think it was worth choosing out of 500 stories if they then did not want to publish the story they had chosen?

The more I think about it, the more I get confused, and the more glad I am that it has just kind of fizzled off.

I should post both versions of the story here so you can see how drastically different they are. I'm really not being picky. Two totally different stories.

For me 'editing' is less about 'pride' or 'identity' than it is about what you are creating. With the Lish editing Carver shit a couple months ago, to me that's a great example of how editing can improve a story and should be published with the edits, but even that is subject to extreme controversy. No one can say 'for sure'. Two years ago I might have jumped at the chance to be in Faultline. In fact, back then I sent out all kinds of crap on whims just trying to get in anywhere, not even rereading what I was sending to make sure it was 'good' in my mind, let alone in anyone else's. I was so hungry I would often eat my tongue. It's funny, I guess, the amount of time it took for me to figure out 'what I want to do' may or may not line up with someone else's idea of 'what should be done' and that in the end it doesn't really matter anyway, where your words end up, if they aren't worth reading in the first place. It took me a long time, too, to finally listen to the most common things a lot of journals have on their submission guidelines 'Read an issue to see our taste.' How often I sent stuff to journals with no idea, and let my rejection pile grow and grow and grow (not that it's stopped now), just because I didn't even know that X journal doesn't tend to run stories like Z.

It's pretty funny too seeing how many people still haven't realized that. Even in going through the ample but not nearly as heavy as other places I imagine submissions queue for Lamination Colony, I never fail to be amazed how once a week or so I get a straightforward love story or ABAB poetry. This is an online journal. You didn't even bother to look for two seconds to read and see that I mainly publish stuff about shitting or titties or homes that absorb their owners or so on and so on and so on. Wouldn't your family feel weird when you send them out a link to your Lamination Colony published sestina about winter weather and they accidentally click on Sean Kilpatrick's story and read "The woman a floor below us began her menstrual cycle. I could distinguish the bloat and grind of her expanding uterus, hear the egg leak."?

Actually, fuck: for the next issue of Lamination Colony I am going to accept 100% of the next 10 items sent to me. Put 'X' in the subject line. That's all. You will be in the next issue. Only the next 10 though.

Here's the catch: I can edit the pieces however I want to. I can delete the whole damn file down to the word 'and' and insert all my own words around it. I can meld your story with another one of the 'X' submissions. I can paste the definition for 'sputum' into the speech bubble where your narrator says the line that you felt most defined him as a character in your mind and that you felt really proud about while leaving your writing computer to go eat broccoli with whoever you are dating. Or I can keep them just as they are and say I wrote them. I can do anything I want.

The stories submitted with an 'X' in the subject line will be published under my name. You'll get credit too, but on the front page there will be 10 pieces by me in my magazine. You'll be mentioned somewhere, but you are insignificant in the outcome. Your words, my choice.

If you are game for that, send me anything, and go ahead and tick your next publication off in your bitchass submissions tracker list. We're also still open for 'regular' submissions and the next issue is going to be snazzy.

8 comments:

Bradley Sands said...

I like this idea. You do fun things with Lamination Colony. I think I might be afraid to do fun things with Bust. I have found a story-thing. I am sending it.

Gene said...

this post made me want to start a journal that accepts everyone.

i own aliensmokingweed.com.

BLAKE BUTLER said...

aliensmokingweed.com would 'revolutionize' the 'industry'

i can't stop putting quotes around things.

eunuch said...

Good post.

Marcos Soriano said...

I've been reading your blog for several months now, and I like a lot of what you've written, but this post was far and above the most interesting one for me. I've had to struggle with the editing process a few times too, and I appreciated hearing about your Faultline experience. It must have been hard to resist giving them permission to publish their 'overhauled' version of their piece, but your decision seems like the best one to me.

That being said, I'm not totally on the same page with you about the Lish/Carver topic. The early edits might have been helpful, but Lish (in my opinion) started doing more harm than good at the end. His mauling of "A Small, Good Thing" (the Lish-edited version being "The Bath") was pretty fucking ridiculous.

BLAKE BUTLER said...

marcos, thank you for reading.

as for lish/carver, i am sure it wasn't always 'feeling right'. i haven't read all of the edits, including 'the bath', but the piece that the new yorker ran seemed to genuinely 'improve' the story to me.

i imagine there were plenty of times it was overaggressive and too much. i guess that was carver's choice in letting it happen.

in the end it's up to the author to keep his stuff intact, i think, if that's the way he wants it, though there are surely other instances ie: under contract where you don't get final say.

everything is fucked.

Tim said...

Great post.

I think once you start considering fiction in any sort of authoritative fashion, as an editor of any publication, it totally fucks up your perception of your own writing and its purpose. At least, that's true for me, although I hope the up-fucking is eventually for the best.

BLAKE BUTLER said...

thanks tim.

that cat blog is awesome.